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Day Seventy-seven: Long Walker

This summer, a mountain lion was hit by a car in Milford, CT, and killed. Later investigation revealed that it had walked thousands of miles from South (I think) Dakota, much farther than mountain lions usually go. My sister, who works at WNPR in Hartford, where the story got a lot of coverage, wanted to find a way for the story to have a happy ending. This is my stab at it.

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The great cat trudged through the undergrowth. His feet hurt. His legs hurt. Everything hurt. Every step was painful, but so very necessary. He didn’t know where he was going, he didn’t know where he had been. All he knew was that he had to go far, far from his home, towards the sunrise.

Always towards the sunrise.

That’s what the Eldest had told him: Walk. Walk to the sunrise as far as you can, to the great waters at the edge of the world. The farther you go, the better your sin will be expiated. The farther you go, the more powerful the cure will be. The farther you go, the greater the curse will spread and the freer our people will be when you die.

And so he walked. Farther than any of his people had walked before, through the lands of the invaders, the people of stone and metal and death. To walk in their lands was to risk oblivion – even the smallest cub knew that. Those who came back – and there were precious few – came back wounded in body and spirit, telling tales that none would believe if they hadn’t been told over and over again. Places where there was no green, or so little that it made no difference. Places of great openness that smelled harsh and bitter and made you sick to your stomach. Great beasts that moved at impossible speeds over endless black rivers of stone that covered all.

And they spread, these people. Every generation there were more of them, covering the land with their stone and tearing out the trees and emptying the lakes, moving the rivers and carving great wounds in the hills. Places where their fathers and grandfathers had hunted were now forbidden lands, devoid of prey and cover. To enter their lands meant death, and not just for the ones who trespassed.

This cat, the long-walker, had gone out into their world, knowing the danger to himself. He had explored and eaten what could be eaten, and he was seen. The people of stone and death must have seen him, and chased him in droves, using the terrible powers at their command.

They did not catch him, but they did not stop, either. They came into his woods, hunting the hunters with their sticks that threw stones that killed. His brothers died. His sister died. He and an elder escaped alone of all his people, finding a hole in the earth where they could wait until the people of stone and death passed them by.

The rain followed their disappearance, and it was cold and relentless. The hole flooded quickly, and they scratched their way out, just the long-walker (who had not yet started his walk) and the elder of his people. They waited out the rain, silently. When it stopped, they found their way home, which was not their home any longer. Their dead had been taken away, and there was nothing of their home left.

“You did this,” the elder said to the long-walker.

“Yes.”

They sat for a long while. The long-walker spotted a rabbit and gave it chase. The rabbit was easy prey. He brought it back, gave it to the elder, who left him some bones and a little meat.

“What do we do now?”

The elder lay down under a tree and thought for a long while. The night came, and tiny lights flitted through the trees. The long walker watched them for a little while and remembered how he used to chase them along the edge of the river. With his brothers, his sister.

“You are cursed,” the elder said. “Others have gone out and died. Others have gone out and come back, without bringing death. You are cursed.” He was quiet, without malice. “Take your curse and go.” He stood up and stretched. “Bring your curse back to the people of stone and death. Walk to the morning. Walk among their dens and their rivers of stone. Leave your curse with them as you go. In your blood. In your piss. In your scat. With every step, bring to them the death they brought to us.” The elder lay down again. “But do not come here again.”

The long walker had never heard his elder speak so much. Not at once. He lay down beside him and licked his paw. “When will I be free?” he asked quietly.

“When you are dead,” the elder said.

“Then shouldn’t I just sit on their river of black stone near here, wait for one of their beasts to run me down?”

“No,” the elder said. He put his head down and seemed to think for a while. The younger cat continued to groom him in the darkness.

“There are waters,” the elder began. “I have heard it said that there are waters where the sun rises. It is water that you cannot drink. Water that surrounds the world, that births the sun anew each day and drowns it at night. Go to the birth-waters. Bathe in them, and you will live free.”

They sat in silence all night, sleeping and waking and sleeping again. When the sun rose, the long walker stood to greet it. He turned to the elder, who lay sleeping in the undergrowth, and started walking.

He walked for many nights, and spread his curse as he could. He learned to stay on the outskirts of the places where the people of stone and death lived and traveled. He found that night was the best time to avoid them. Stay away from the light, and you will find safety, for these people carried light everywhere with them. He met others on his travel, his kind and not his kind. He didn’t keep to them or offer to bring them with him. “I am cursed,” was all he would say, and that would be enough. No one needed his story. The world got cold and hot and cold again, and he kept walking.

Now, so many nights later, he still walked. He could smell something on the air, something that smelled like the great waters he had encountered long before, but different. It smelled like blood. Perhaps, he thought, this is it. Perhaps these are the waters that birth the sun. The other waters had been vast, but drinkable. Perhaps these would not be.

He sniffed the wind. The waters would not be far away. He turned, and stepped onto one of the small rivers of black stone, one of countless that he had stepped on before. He sniffed the air again and sneezed. The bloodwater smell was still there, under the horrible smell of the stone river. He sneezed again but knew he was on the right path. The curse he was under would be erased. The one he had set would begin. The people of stone and death would find themselves hunted as he was hunted. Murdered as his people had been murdered. Hounded out of their homes as –

One of the great beasts of the river slammed into him, and the long walker cried out in pain. He flew through the air and felt bones break as he hit. His breath felt slow and painful and wet.

The great beast stopped with a terrible screeching sound and the smell of the river. Its burning eyes were trained on the long walker, and he wanted to run. But his legs wouldn’t move.

One of the people of stone and death was there, coming off of (out of?) the great beast of the river. It was yelling and chattering and moving about. Celebrating, no doubt. Celebrating one more murder at its hands.

The person – the soft, murderous person – leaned down over the long walker, chattering away. The long walker felt every break, pain that stabbed in every part. Blood filled his mouth, his nose, his eyes. He would not reach the waters of the sun. He would not bathe and be free.

But that did not mean he would fail.

“My curse,” he said to the person, who did not hear him. “My curse is your curse now.” He breathed as deeply as he could, until the pain was too much to bear. And then, in one long sigh, he let it out. His own curse would take hold, flying back to his homeland on his last breath, and taking root in every place he had touched and marked. The people of stone and death would know his fear and his pain and his solitude.

His vision dimmed, and his hearing faded. The smell of the bloodwater, the waters of the birth of the sun, lingered long in his nose until he was gone.

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